3. Southern Africa: Farm workers become farm owners (Inter Press Service, The Namibian)

| June 8, 2009

Download this story

Jacobus Mietas says farming is in his blood. He was born in the Ceres district of South Africa’s Western Cape province. He has worked on other people’s farms his whole life. But now he is proud to be a landowner.Mr. Mietas is one of 210 farm workers who joined together to purchase farmland. The workers are black, and were therefore disadvantaged by colonialism and apartheid. South Africa’s land reform policy aims to address this historical injustice. Under this policy, each of the black workers was entitled to a grant for purchasing land. They pooled their resources. Additional financing was provided by local large-scale farmers. Finally, the land was purchased. Each of the farm workers owns a share.

Today, the land is planted with fruit trees. Apricots, peaches, nectarines, and pears ripen under the autumn sun. A harvest of 3.5 tons is expected this season. Mr. Mietas looks forward to many agricultural seasons – and beyond. He feels he had made an investment in his children’s future.

Land reform in Southern Africa has been a long and slow process. While Mr. Mietas and his colleagues made land reform policies work for them, other farm workers labour on land they will never own. They lack the security that farm owners enjoy. A recent case in Namibia showed just how tenuous life can be for farm workers.

Forty workers from a farm just outside of Windhoek, Namibia, lived under the threat of eviction for almost a year. Since the 1970s, they have worked on a farm owned by a German couple. The couple promised the workers that they could stay on the land permanently. But after the couple died, the farm workers became concerned when they received orders to remove their livestock.

Fortunately, a resolution was reached. An agreement was signed between the farm owners’ family and the farm workers. The workers were granted sole and exclusive rights to live on the land.

Deon Gawanab is a spokesperson for the workers. He said they are extremely happy with the agreement. Now that the land uncertainty is settled, the workers plan to construct housing and organize vocational training.